Monday, October 21, 2013

My Jazz Initiation

Not long ago our symphony was scheduled to play a pops concert with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans. We didn't get the music for our portion of the program until a week before the concert, so I spent many hours practicing my many, many fast notes and solos (we were also going to play a lot of "Americana" type music). Because the personnel for a pops concert is not usually the same as for the regular season concerts, we only had one practice scheduled for the day of the concert.

So from 9:00-12:00 the symphony practiced our non-jazz pieces, and then we were given fancy folders from the jazz band to use for the afternoon practice (and I honestly figured I wouldn't have any parts, being the piccolo player). But one of the pieces, "Mardi Gras Medley," had a piccolo solo with the words "stand up" written in pencil.....sounded ominous to me.

After lunch we just "ran through" the several songs we were to play with the jazz band--no "practice" at all! I was pretty much confused and lost, especially when the arranger (who's a white guy with a wild-looking Afro) looked right at me and said, "there's a piccolo solo in the medley." I could hardly read the rhythms, much less understand WHY there was a piccolo solo!

So after this 'rehearsal' I found the arranger, who is a very nice man named Ben Jaffe, and asked him to please help me understand, as I really knew very little about jazz.

He said he wrote the solo for piccolo after hearing a man whistle the melody while playing piano. OH! My non-jazz-trained light bulb finally came on. I asked the symphony conductor if it was all right for me to wear a jazzy red hat during my solo so I could "get into" the part. He said, "Sure, why not?"

I didn't tell anyone else about the hat and kept it in my black bag under my seat. When it was time for the "Mardi Gras Medley" (the last and longest piece of the concert), the arranger announced to the audience that there would be a piccolo solo in this song. Since it begins with the piccolo playing what sounds like an old "field call" from slave days, everyone probably figured that was the solo.

After I played that opening lick, I raised my stand a little so I could see the music when I stood up (I had practiced it over and over during our little break to make sure I had it "down" in case I couldn't see the music). A few measures before I was supposed to stand up, I pulled out the hat and put it on while hiding behind the stand. The flute player who sits next to me whispered, "What is that?" but I couldn't answer then or I would have missed my cue.

Then I stood up, shaking like a leaf (cuz I felt like a fish out of water) and tried to pretend I was "one of the guys" while I played that solo like a whistling jazz musician. I didn't see or hear anything else until I sat down and pulled off the hat. The audience was clapping and the flute player said I was moving with the music, so I guess the hat really helped.  She also said the guys in the band turned around and watched me.

After the concert I put the hat back on and found the arranger. He said I did great and hugged me. I thanked him for broadening my music horizons, and he looked at the black sax player next to him and said in his Louisiana drawl, "Oh, she's comin' to the dark side."

I almost forgot to tell you---because this group travels and plays with symphonies all over, at the bottom of my music several other piccolo players had signed in pencil: "Hi from Nashville! Joy" "Hi from Minneapolis! Carol" etc., so I wrote "Hi from Kerrville, TX! Katy."


  1. I am so proud of your courage - I totally know that's okay...just a little adrenelin to help in "the fight" Just wish I could've heard the main riff!

  2. Thanks, Tony! Yea, it was pretty cool! I have only recently figured out about the "adrenaline" rush. Usually I run a lap in the performing arts center before each concert to work some of it off, LOL (I mean run UP the steps to the top and run more slowly down, so I can hold the handrail and not fall on my face). :)